Grace and peace to you from Christ our Lord, who, when the days drew near for him to be taken up, set his face to go to Jerusalem and the cross (Luke 9:51).
The Minnesota Conference is also on an intentional journey. It is a similar “face forward” journey to unleash new life. It is a no-looking-back journey to becoming a more faithful and fruitful expression of the kingdom of God. It is a journey toward vitality.
The journey is not linear; it is more likely to be circular. It will not be a journey marked by a neat sequence of strategies or projects; but it will display intense intentionality. It will be marked by learning, experimentation, and “failed successes.” It will require us to face an uncharted future. It will cause us to rethink church.
And it is a journey that we must traverse together—conference leaders, pastors, lay leadership, and congregations. It is a journey toward increasing the number of vital congregations effective in making and equipping new disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
Over the past six months, the Minnesota extended Cabinet and I have engaged in a lively, sustained conversation about where and how we will lead. Will we join Jesus on the road to Jerusalem and the way that leads to unleashing new life—or will we, like many of Jesus’ would-be followers, find excuses to simply maintain the status quo?
A vision that builds on the journey already engaged is coming into focus. It is a vision for every congregation to become a vital expression of three scriptural imperatives:
· cultivate spiritual vitality
· reach new people
· heal a broken world
Jesus’ Great Commandment (Luke 10:27) to love God and neighbor tells us to cultivate spiritual vitality. Within our Wesleyan tradition, we practice this through the practical and formational disciplines of three simple rules: do no harm, do good, and stay in love with God.
Jesus’ Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20) to go and make disciples of all nations tells us to reach new people. Within our Wesleyan tradition, we practice this by summoning people to experience God’s prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying grace and encouraging people to embrace a life of personal and social holiness. The thrust of the Wesleyan movement is to “reform the nation . . . and to spread scriptural holiness over the land.”
Jesus’ Great Announcement (Luke 4:18-21) that he came to preach good news to the poor and to liberate the oppressed tells us to heal a broken world. Within our Wesleyan tradition, we practice this through our historic commitments to make visible and incarnate the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.
A vision of over 360 spiritually vital congregations expressing these scriptural imperatives is bold and audacious. Some would say it is foolish, given the state of despair and decline in many of our congregations.
But I am a person of faith. I believe God is not done with any of our congregations in Minnesota. God’s imagination is unlimited and we are called to open ourselves to this Spirit-inspired, Spirit-directed, Spirit-energized imagination in every place we currently have a mission outpost and every new place we are called to establish a mission outpost.
To achieve this bold, audacious vision, the extended Cabinet and I are committed to increasing the capacity of the conference, districts, and local churches to live into God’s preferred future for us. Thus, we have identified four key vision pathways toward increasing our capacity:
· developing missional leaders
· equipping missional congregations
· extending missional impact
· generating missional resources
By “missional” we mean to focus on God’s purposes for Christ’s mission, not our personal or institutional preferences. It means to turn outward and engage the world with a burning desire to transform individuals, communities, and global systems. It means to raise the dead to new life in Christ.
Developing missional leaders requires creating a culture of call by identifying, preparing, and deploying clergy and lay leaders who are gifted and skilled in leading congregations to become more vital.
Equipping missional congregations will entail starting new congregations in strategic missional settings and providing resources and training for existing congregations that are seeking to re-invent, re-vision, or re-start their mission and ministry.
Extending our missional impact will provide avenues for congregations to more effectively use our connection to transform their communities and the world into the kingdom of God.
Generating missional resources means generating the financial resources necessary to create and sustain our leadership development, congregational vitality, and missional initiatives.
Missional congregations that cultivate spiritual vitality, reach new people, and heal a broken world bear much kingdom fruit. They experience signs and wonders of God’s Spirit breaking through and raising people to new life in Jesus Christ. They reflect the fruitfulness of the early church recorded for us in Acts 2. They witness God working in and through them to accomplish God’s purposes to redeem all of creation. They are the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
I invite you to join us on this journey toward vitality. We covet your prayers, as we pray for each of you. May the Holy Spirit break through to renew and revive our great movement and unleash new life in Minnesota and around the world.
Bishop Bruce R. Ough is resident bishop of the Dakotas-Minnesota Episcopal Area.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church